Everyone experiences grief at different times in their lives. It’s a normal part of living. Usually, in a mentally stable person, grief will run its course and the person will move on. In the case of a death of a loved one, the grief may resurface at certain times; anniversaries, birthdays etc., and they will process it and keep moving forward. Grief is normal and healthy. But what happens when it is so deep and traumatic that it consumes you? How do you manage overwhelming feelings of deep trauma associated with grief, or deep grief associated with trauma? How do you move on from that? And if you’re already dealing with so much in the way of poor mental and emotional health, what coping skills do you need to learn to keep yourself afloat in the vast ocean of pain and sorrow?
The journey towards healing is not linear. Nor is it a “one-size fits all” process. That’s why it’s called a “journey”. Healing is the journey, not the destination. Health is the destination, but healing is current and ongoing. It’s an everyday commitment. It’s getting up in the morning when you’d rather stay in bed and cry it out. It’s self-care when you’d rather hide away and wallow. It’s facing the day with a brave smile when you’d rather scream at the sky or sob into your pillow. This healing journey is different for everyone. No two people will have the exact same path to tread, and nor should they. We are all unique individuals and to try to cram everyone into the same box is denying our individualism and uniqueness. It’s like saying “my feelings don’t matter.”
So is there a right and wrong way to deal with grief? I believe the answer is yes… and no. In terms of how long a person takes to work through their grief, there is no right or wrong way. You can take as long as you need to and no one has the right to tell you to “get over it” or “Move on”. They can encourage you to keep moving forwards, but it is no one else’s business how long you take to process your emotions. Also, the method in which you decide to take to process your emotions is also yours and yours alone to decide. Everyone has their own way of processing their thoughts and feelings and there’s no ‘one size fits all’. If talking it through with someone is helpful, then find the right person to talk to about it. If you need to talk about it over and over as part of the process, then it’s up to the other person to be willing to show empathy and compassion and not judge you. If they are struggling, they should be able to explain that without you erupting. There is a saying; “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. I’d say this is pretty apt when it comes to finding people to talk to about your emotions. Don’t rely on just one person, especially if you need to be able to talk it over and over until it is clear in your mind. Find a few trusted people to share the load with. That way they won’t get burnt out and you will still feel supported and listened to.
Now to the wrong way of dealing with grief: Bottling it up. Ignoring it. Denying your emotions. While in the short-term, this may be helpful to some people, in the long-term it can be quite damaging. Bottling up those normal emotional responses can lead to, at best, a hard heart that cannot change and at worst, an explosion down the track. Emotional explosions are quite messy and end up hurting people, yourself included. Ignoring the issue is also unhelpful in the long-term. It will always be there, haunting you, until you deal with it. Another potentially damaging way to deal with these emotions is by only telling one person about how you are feeling. I don’t know about you, but I feel things very deeply and unfortunately, my mind goes over and over it. If I talk to only one person all the time about how I’m feeling, that person will start to get burnt out, which leads to them withdrawing in order to preserve their own mental health, which then, in turn, leads to you feeling abandoned by them (especially if you also suffer with Borderline Personality Disorder like I do!). And then you’ll be left with the same emotions as before, plus the new ones of abandonment, and no one to talk to. So like I suggested above, have a few trusted friends or people in your life (therapist, doctor, social worker etc) who you can confide in to even the load.
I am not saying you are a burden, so please don’t read that in the above sentence! But understand that everyone is going through their own journeys too, and sometimes they can’t always be there for you, so to avoid disappointment and hurt, make sure you share wisely. Trust me… this is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way, and am still learning! I am also dealing with the consequences of losing friends for this very reason. It hurts! And I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did!
A thing to remember is that not everyone will know how to help someone who is grieving. Often there are not enough of the right words to tell a grieving person that will make it better for them, so many people just choose not to say anything at all. Unfortunately, this can be hard for the person who is grieving. I think it’s reasonable to say that we don’t necessarily want someone to “fix” us and make us happy (however we might wish it to be so!), but we really want someone to just be there; even if they are silent. A silent but present friend is worth more than a friend who simply abandons us in our time of need, wouldn’t you agree? So my advice to friends, family and professionals who are wanting to help a grieving person is to simple be there for them. You don’t have to say anything. Just be there and show them you care.
Anyway, I hope this was helpful to someone. My own thoughts are very scattered at the moment, so I’m really hoping this has made sense! As always, thanks for reading, stay safe and practice self-care and mindfulness.